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How to Become a Travel Agent

travel agent Most travel agents are employed full-time by travel agencies, hotels, tour companies or other companies in the travel arrangement and reservation service industry. / Credit: Hasloo Group Production Studio | Shutterstock

If you’re looking for a job that combines sales, customer service, and logistics, then a career as a travel agent might be right for you. Travel agents take care of all the planning associated with vacations or business trips, such as transportation, lodging, dining and entertainment plans.

There are different kinds of travel agents, and training for the job differs depending on where an agent chooses to work. If you’re considering a career in this field, you may want to know what your potential responsibilities will be, where you might find work, and what qualifications you’ll need to get a job.

Travel agents primarily work in sales. They sell transportation, lodging and admission to entertainment activities to individuals and groups who are planning trips. Travel agents are also called upon to give advice on destinations, itineraries and other choices associated with planning a vacation or business trip.

It is imperative that travel agents be good communicators who can determine what clients want and need. They must keep in mind customers’ budgets and preferences when planning and arranging schedules and activities.

Travel agents must also have excellent computer literacy and research skills, as much of their time is spent online researching destinations and booking reservations.

Some travel agents are asked to visit the hotels, resorts and restaurants that they recommend to clients in order to assess the comfort, cleanliness, and quality of the places they promote. [Related: Jobs that Can Make You Fat]

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, a growing number of travel agents focus on a specific type of travel, such as adventure tours, or specialize in planning trips for a particular group of people, like senior citizens or couples with children. Other agents may choose to work predominately with the employees of corporations or for companies that sell tours and travel services.

Most travel agents are employed full-time by travel agencies, hotels, tour companies or other companies in the travel arrangement and reservation service industry. About 14 percent of travel agents in the United States were self-employed as of 2010, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The median annual wage for travel agents was $31,870 in 2010, with the top 10 percent of agents earning more than $50,620 a year. Some travel agents work more often during peak travel seasons, such as holidays, and must be available to accommodate customers’ last-minute schedule changes.

Typically, a high school diploma is required for work as a travel agent, and some employers prefer to hire agents who have received formal training in a field related to the travel industry. However, almost all employees offer at least some on-the-job training for new agents.

Classes in professional travel planning are offered at many community colleges, vocational schools and industry associations. Such courses usually focus on reservation systems, international travel regulations, sales and marketing. Degree programs in travel and tourism are also offered at some colleges and universities.

Some states require that independent agents possess a business license in order to sell travel services. To see if your state requires such a license, contact the state licensing agency.

While no formal certification is necessary for travel agents, those who wish to advance their careers may want to obtain a certificate from training institutes, such as the International Airline Transport Association’s Training and Development Institute or the Travel Institute.